What is the Difference Between Heirloom and Regular Navel Oranges?

I am all about doing things the right way. Taking the time to do things right whether your in the kitchen or out in the orchard always bring better results in terms of flavor. The term “heirloom” brings excitement to anyone enthusiastic about produce. A few years ago I discovered heirloom navel oranges and it was one of the best discoveries I have made in my food journey. What might be wondering what makes it different than the regular naval orange you are used to buying?

What Makes a Navel Orange a Heirloom?
The word heirloom itself means something that has been passed down from generation to generation. The heirloom navel is the same fruit that got California’s citrus industry booming. It’s the original or “old line” Washington Navel. The navel has been bred over the years to produce more fruit, easier, and faster without considering flavor. Heirloom navels are grown using certain farming practices. The grower gives special attention to the soil, just like it was done since navels were introduced to America from Brazil in the 1800s. The secret is to use the best root stock. The heirlooms grow best in a sour root stock. But these isn’t commonly used anymore because the trees don’t produce fruit as heavily or as quickly than in newer root stocks. Doing things the right way is what gives the heirloom navels there amazing taste. If you have one of these, I think you will be disappointed if you ever buy the grocery market standard navel again.

Sometimes you find find heirloom navels still with their leaves intact and sometimes you won’t. Unlike the navel you are used to, heirlooms aren’t in stores year around. They typically will find them in stores from December into late April/early May with the peak being in the winter months. A couple of growers to look out for are Ripe to You and Cecelia Packing.

You will recognize Ripe to You by their black stickers with the website “ripetoyou.com” written on them. I have grown to trust that I am getting quality citrus whenever I see one of those stickers. They grow their heirlooms at Rising C Ranches in Orange Cove, California.

Cecelia Packing uses their Sky Valley label for their heirloom navels. I recently discovered them at Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s and was pleased with the quality and price. I also purchased one of their Cara Cara Navels at Whole Foods and wish I had bought more!

When are Heirloom Navels in Season?
Growing things the right way sometime takes more time. The first California Navels start to hit the market more than a month before the heirlooms. Around mid-January is when you can realistically begin expecting to see Heirloom Navels show up in your local store.

Do They Grow Heirloom Navels in Florida as well?
To me knowledge they do not. I have searched around on the subject and have come up empty handed. It seems to be a Cali only thing.

Have you had an heirloom navel? I would love to know what you think? Leave a comment below.


47 Comment

  1. Thank you, for the kind words. We have felt for some time that we had something special in this ranch. You hit the nail on the head.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks for the comment. You do indeed have something special, I am glad I discovered it and I hope more people do as well.

  3. jun says:

    I love the heirloom navel Oranges and just discovered it this winter and eating only this orange the whole winter 🙂

  4. Aaron says:

    Since I came across these a few years ago, each year I wait for Cecilia’s Sky Valley oranges to hit the shelves at my local Trader Joes. I START my orange eating season when they come around and I don’t eat any other grower’s oranges any more (if only they were organic…). I swear I probably eat through one entire orange tree’s worth of oranges by the time the last bags leave the store in early April. Now, if only I could find an old line washington navel orange tree with sour orange root stock to plant…

  5. Eric Samuelson says:

    Good to see another fan out there!

  6. Roberta Navarro says:

    Our local grocery store had “Heirloom” oranges on special a couple of weeks ago here in Glendora Calif
    I have a young nephew who does not care for fruit but tried some of these oranges and got hooked on them.
    Said they were just right and not too bulky like the other thicker skinned oranges.
    Have called the grocery store to see if they are going to bring more product in.(Hopefully so!!)

    Thank you

    R Navarro

  7. Gary says:

    Just bought my first Heirloom navel oranges today. I found it absolutely delicious but a bit difficult to peel. I will definitely buy them when they are in the store. I wish they were available year round.

  8. Eric Samuelson says:

    I am glad that you found them. Once you go heirloom you never want to go back! You did point out the only drawbacks they have no being available year round and being difficult to peel – but they are worth it.

  9. Donna says:

    I found heirloom navel oranges at the Fresh Market in Spartanburg SC a couple of weeks ago and have fallen in love. I had jus complained that oranges don’t taste like oranges anymore, and then I found these. I only bought a couple at first, then went back and bought a dozen, and am eating my last one right now. I am going after work to see if they have anymore and will be very disappointed if they are out! I wanted to know the difference between heirlooms and regular FL or CA navels, and now I know! Thanks!

  10. S Boser says:

    Best oranges ever!

  11. Monique Anzules says:

    I love these Heirloom navels! I buy all I can get my hands on. With or without a sale! I’m crazy for them! LOL!

  12. phillip moore says:

    the best and sweetest navel orange I have ever eaten. have only been able to find them at Fresh Market in Knoxville.

  13. Eric Samuelson says:

    Glad you found them. Amazing when things are done the right way, how good something can be! If you have a Whole Foods Market near you, you should be able to find them there.

  14. Jackie says:

    I just discovered the heirloom navels last week as they were on sale at a local market bear my chiropractor. I stop in there after my appointments to browse the produce section. I was needing more oranges and got excited when I saw how gorgeous these looked. I bought 4 bags worth! I juiced them the next morning and oh my gosh!!! They are so sweet and yummy. Just like an orange should taste. I’m driving the 24 miles today to go buy a case because the sale ends today 😉

  15. Libba Campbell says:

    I just ate my first Heirloom orange this morning. We cut the last organic navel we had, ate half of it, then cut and tasted the heirloom. Definitely sweeter. I went back to Whole Foods and bought more this afternoon. The sticker said Heirloom 3107, gold on black. Nothing else. I’ve never seen them before yesterday. I will certainly look for them again. I hope to find them grown organically.

  16. Eric Samuelson says:

    Glad you go to enjoy an heirllom navel. I have never seen any organic heirlooms as of yet. I recognize the sticker you are talking about. This is from Rising C Ranches or Ripe to You (http://www.ripetoyou.com/). Their website talks about their farming practices and there is contact information on there if you have more questions for them.

  17. Brad says:

    I’m 40yrs old. I just ate my 1st heirloom orange, and practically inhaled the 2nd one. You don’t find these everyday in SC.

  18. Eric Samuelson says:

    Awesome! They are usually only available from December to May, so you can’t get them year round.

  19. Carla says:

    I recently discovered Ripe To You at Fresh Market and they are outstanding!! I have lived in Florida 34 years and I love citrus fruit. I try to buy local but I may have to make an exception when it comes to the first rate quality and flavor of the heirlooms. I will buy them again whenever I see them for sale

  20. Mitzi says:

    I bought our first heirloom oranges,and we will never want standard oranges again. These are so sweet and bursting with orange flavor. I had almost forgotten what an orange is supposed to taste like and usually use salt to bear the sourness. I won’t be putting salt on these heirlooms. I’m hooked.

  21. Peggy Samples says:

    I had a heirloom navel orange this spring. Best orange I have ever ate. Great taste!

  22. Becky says:

    These oranges are so juicy. They taste like fresh squeezed juice.

    I had not noticed in the Mega Foods grocery stores before. Doesn’t mean they
    were not there.

    Price is very reasonable.

    This variety is much taster than other navel varieties.

    Happened to have the Ripetoyou.com black label

  23. Virtualcid says:

    I swear these are the best oranges i ever had. I do my shopping at Food 4 Less which does not stock these. However, once I’m done shopping there, I head out to another store just for these. 🙂 I will never go back to eating regular navels again. Delicious!

  24. Eric Samuelson says:

    I am glad that you found them. I do not eat regular Navels anymore. What store do you buy your Heirloom Navels at?

  25. Tamara says:

    Sky Valley Heirloom Naval’s are the best tasting oranges around. I want to know if you can buy a tree from them to plant at home

  26. Shirley Doherty says:

    Like eating candy. Love those Heirlooms. First I have seen this season was yesterday at an Omaha HyVee where I usually don’t shop. Got only a dozen, but hope to get back there while some Heirlooms are still available. Where else can I get some?

    Shirley Doherty
    Mineola, Ia

  27. Charmaine Smith says:

    I am enjoying one now. It is sweet. Good color, juicy and fragrant. I paid $3.99 for 6. Will I do it again? Maybe. For me the issue is: Have I had oranges that were not Heirlooms that tasted this good? The answer is yes. But, its a crap shoot. When I buy in season Navels, I amy or may not get a great bag of oranges. I think with the Heirlooms, the likelihood of a great orange is higher.

  28. Carol Esterkin says:

    I discovered the Heirloom navel orange at Whole Foods. My only complaint is that they are seasonal and I will not be able to enjoy them all year around!

    I am re-landscaping my yard. I would love to plant an Heirloom orange tree. Are they available?

  29. Eric Samuelson says:

    The best things never seem to be able year around, it’s part of the fun though. As for growing your own tree, I did a quick search and didn’t find anything what you need to look for is a Navel orange tree that is started on sour orange rootstock. Call around to nurseries in your area. I don’t think heirloom oranges are a secret, just going back to growing Navels they way they did years ago that produces better tasting fruit.

  30. Christy Blackburn says:

    At 61, it seems like nothing is as good as it was! These oranges bring back the
    Memory of when everything taste better. Sadly Central Market is out, maybe I will check Trader Joes. Thanks for the flavor and the memories!

  31. Eric Samuelson says:

    Glad you have gotten to enjoy them. The season should be over by know, so I would be surprised if you find them again before next December, but hopefully you can score one last one or one last bag!

  32. Chris says:

    For several years I’ve only bought Cara Cara oranges. This past season I got my husband to try them and when they went out of season I started looking for replacement. I don’t buy the navel oranges they have in stock as it’s always a gamble whether it will be good or not. Last week a new store opened and they had the Heirloom oranges. So decided to buy one and give it a chance. Really glad I did. I asked the produce guy where they came from and he said Australia. So I was delighted to read your blog and learn a little more about these really good oranges.

  33. George says:

    I bought a 40 lb in Loma Linda a few days ago because of the color – I have never seen oranges look that orange color in my life- I am trying to locate the packing in Fowler,Ca to buy some on my way back to my home near Portland,Or

  34. ron says:

    Saw the heirloom oranges for the first time yesterday. The name is what caught my eye. The best tasting orange I have ever eaten. After the one I had to have the second one. I am going back today to buy two more bags even though my farm is 20 miles away. I grow heirloom apples on my farm so I know what real flavor is.

  35. Eric Samuelson says:

    Glad you found them. Only Navels worth buying. What type of heirloom apples do you grow?

  36. John Daugherty says:

    Thank you for producing theses oranges. I love them they are far superior to the regular navel oranges sold here inMinnesota.

  37. Janet Lynn says:

    I took a chance and bought a 6 pack of heirloom navel oranges from Sprouts in Oklahoma. OH. MY. SWEET. HEAVEN. A regular orange from the grocery store will NEVER make its way to my shopping cart, ever….again….. Although they are a little pricey, it’s so worth it! This heirloom orange smelled like real citrus oranges, it peeled so easy, the juice was dripping every where. I licked my finger and immediately thought, I’m wasting this precious juice! The sweeteness from this orange is an incredible treat. I ate the first as fast as I could. I ate a second, but savored every juicy bite and made it last a little longer. I wonder if I can order the heirloom treasures online. I always wondered why oranges don’t taste like the oranges I used to eat when I was a kid. Amazing how the smell, and the taste of this heirloom orange can transform you back in time. LOVE IT!!!

  38. Eric Samuelson says:

    I didn’t produce these myself but I am glad that you have found them and are enjoying them.

  39. Eric Samuelson says:

    I am so happy to hear more and more people are being turned on to these oranges. It’s amazing when you do the things the right way, how much better the flavor can be.

  40. inso chung says:

    Bought a bag at Trader Joes.

    Very tender, juicy and wholesome sweet!!

  41. Eric Samuelson says:

    Glad that you found them. They are what a Navel orange should taste like! Thanks for leaving a comment.

  42. Anne Conatser says:

    I just had my first heirloom orange. I purchased it at The Fresh Market. I didn’t know there was such a fruit. But since I am a gardener in favor of heirloom veggies ,I thought it was worth a try. Believe me it certainly was! So very sweet, flavorful and delicious! I’m going back for more while they are in season.

  43. Susie says:

    I could not agree more with you. I recently tried an organic heirloom orange and was shocked at how sweet and delicious it was.

  44. Sky Valley Heirloom Oranges are out of Cecelia Packing I guess. They are simply the sweetest most flavourful orange I have ever eaten. They are the only orange that was so good that I felt compelled to look up on the internet. I bought them at Trader Joe’s in Everett WA. I plan to make orange curd and marmalade while they are available.

  45. RGC says:

    I just recently had my first heirloom orange from Vintage Sweets Heirloom Navel Oranges–wow, it was the most delicious orange I’ve ever eaten!

  46. Betty says:

    The heirloom I can get have the gold on black labels. I haven’t had oranges like these for years. Wouldn’t bother buying any other now. I’m spoiled forever. I don’t find them hard to peal as some have said but I wouldn’t care. The juice is so sweet and runs down your chin. The others are tasteless and tough. I am in heaven here in Canada.. sure glad I found them as I had given up on ever finding a tasty orange again.

  47. Jane says:

    I first had skyvalley heirloom oranges this year from trader Joes. They are the best tasting oranges I’ve ever had.. We couldn’t get enough of them. I went back to Trader Joes to get more and they were out. I drove all over town to whole foods trying to get more. Finally got more in at Trader Joes and I bought 4 bags. Can’t wait till next year!!!

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